Magazine article First Things; A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life

A Journey through American

Magazine article First Things; A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life

A Journey through American

Article excerpt

A Journey Through American Literature BY KEVIN J. HAYES OXFORD, 192PP, $17.95

Kevin J. Hayes' A Journey Through American Literature is a briskly paced study of the development of individuality and the "I" in American literature. In an encompassing survey, Hayes, English professor at the University of Central Oklahoma, suggests that the preoccupation with identity is exactly what is so American about the hundreds of books, texts, and authors he includes.

His presentation is neat and swift, almost like a slideshow where he holds slide after slide to the light and makes quick yet close and strong readings of each piece examined, be it travel writing, promotional tracts, autobiographies, or attempts at the "Great American Novel." American literature is not occupied with developing any one identity, he claims, but with the importance of the process of individual self-knowledge throughout the history of America.

In fact, the only thing that Hayes commonly attributes to the diverse literature is the motif of the journey. Ishmael's pilgrimage on the Atlantic in Moby Dick is functionally no different from Hunter S. Thompson's drug-induced trip to Vegas in Fear and Loathing, both share the drive to push outward into the unknown, motivated by the possibility that the self is somewhere "out there. …

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